To My Mom on Mother’s Day
Moms and mothers, not always the same thing, are older than their children. For this reason alone, they have more smarts — perhaps not in book learning, but from that greatest educator of all, Experience.
My Mom left high school while in the 10th grade to help her family during the 1930s, so her book learning is not as great as that of her two college-educated children (your humble narrator being one). She did, as the Chinese curse warns, “live in interesting times.”
Currently, Mom is in the same situation as she was when I was born – in a hospital bed. This time she’s the victim of the scourge of mankind: Age. Age is relentless and beats down even the strongest and most fit; while Mom was never either, she is providing Age a worthy opponent.
Contrary to my earliest beliefs, Mom started young, just as I did. My sister, who now takes care of her, knows more about the young Mom than I do. But I know that, as was the custom of the day, she was given a $1 bill as a stake for the future. That $1 bill, as old as she, is huge by today’s standards, much as she appeared to me when I was little. Mom grew up in Detroit, Buffalo, and Brooklyn, where, as World War II reared its ugly head, workers male and female flocked to the Navy Yards. She met my Dad, a Brooklyn boy, and after a whirlwind courtship, the kind most common during the early days of the War, married him on Washington’s Birthday, 1942. He soon shipped out for Fort Lewis in the state of Washington.
While he was away she worked at the Yard and stayed with his family. Dad had been sent with his Division to Cherbourg, France and saw his first combat in October, 1944. Mom received a letter from Dad posted the day before combat. He let her know he was all right and that he would be back for her. And he was.
He was mustered out at Camp Chaffee , Arkansas and took the train back to Brooklyn. They soon found an apartment in Queens, Dad found a job, and Mom found herself with a surprise, one opened nine months later. The little girl born so close to Mom’s birthday was a present she still cherishes.
A few years later, like an actor waiting in the wings, I entered the stage at a different hospital in mid-town Manhattan. The entire family never seemed to venture more than 10 miles from when they first met: Mom and Dad in Brooklyn, my sister in Queens, and I in Manhattan. It was a tightly knit family, with in-laws in Brook-lyn, although my Dad’s father owned a house at Packanack Lake, NJ.
After a terrible accident, my sister was in the hospital for several years. Mom and Dad visited her each week-end (I was a tot playing with the adding machines and the nuns). Mom took a job at the hospital to be close to her firstborn; in fact, Mom and I rode the bus each day to downtown Yonkers, where she would drop me off at nursery school before hiking to work. On the bus returning home, my 4-year old voice would sing “O bury me not, on the lone prairie” or whatever song Gene Autry or Roy Rogers was singing at the time. Although my voice even then could drop birds from trees, the other passengers and the driver tried to tolerate it.
I learned to read by following Mom’s or Dad’s fingers as they read to me – the Harvard Classics’ Grimm Broth-ers and Hans Christian Andersen were my favorites. When I was old enough, Mom took me to St. Mary’s, next to the hospital where my sister lay, for my grade school education. Dad was working in White Plains at the time, in the opposite direction, so we still rode the bus and I still serenaded the passengers and driver on my way home, my Mom apologizing to all as we stepped off.
When my front teeth were knocked out on a playground, Mom rushed out and shoved them back in my gums. I’ve not been called “Bucky Beaver” for a while, but between clarinet playing and the way my teeth grew in place, I had a definite overbite. I can say, though, that thanks to Mom I could wish at Christmas for toys in-stead of my two front teeth.
My Mom and Dad stayed in touch with their friends from Queens and Manhattan, so when my second sister had an infection in her leg, I was shipped off to the Bronx while Mom spent time caring for my sister – with my third sister in her arms.
I eventually went away to college and, as my younger sisters grew up, Mom and Dad were drifting apart. I moved back home for a time. Mom and Dad were, I hope, happy to have me back and my sisters seemed to en-joy my presence. But I had found a girl down South and presented her to my family, a rather awkward situa-tion where my sisters were ecstatic and my parents less so.
My girlfriend (now my wife) and my Mom became friendlier after I wound up in the hospital for two months. When my Mom later needed someone, she turned to my wife and me in times of trouble, staying with us for about 12 years, off and on.
Mom is no longer married to Dad and my two sisters are themselves married. Mom eventually left for Las Ve-gas and her new beau, returning first on the death of one of my aunts and the second time when her own health failed. Since then, she has been in and out of hospitals and nursing homes. My second sister keeps me up-to-date on Mom, and, while both are aware Mom is entering the final lap of a lifelong race, tells me that she is eat-ing once again and drinking fluids. She’ll hopefully be around a lot longer.
My Mom’s history is probably a lot different than other moms. Although we did not always agree, I’m proud to look back on her courage and endurance. If you still have your mother, you’re fortunate. Adults who’ve grown away from their Moms, who’ve often been angered by their Mom’s’ comments against spouses or children, or who’ve lost the ability to be childlike and respectful around their parents, should still treat Mom with kindness and gratitude this Mother’s Day.
If nothing else, thank your Mom for being there for you.
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